Monday, September 25, 2006

What caste are the British anyway?

I used to have a driver that liked to point out other white people to me.  “Look, ma’am, Americans” he would say and point to the “Americans.”  

When I first got here, I used to feel that people here stare too much and too long at me, because I am foreign.  Then, I started staring at foreigners, too.  No one stares at foreigners longer than another foreigner.

In India, when you see another white person, you think, is that one of my countrymen, and feel suddenly homesick.  So you stare and look for distinguishing characteristics.  You know, some faces just look European or British but the thing that usually gives people away is the way they walk or carry themselves.  Americans tend to not pay attention to how they carry themselves, and sort of walk with a sprawling energy.   Europeans walk all kinds of different ways, from stiffly to spritely - all you really can tell is that , no, they’re not American.  I have found Americans to be in short supply here, but Britishers and other Europeans are coming out of the woodwork.  

So I look at the aforementioned “Americans.”  The man is an older gentleman, wearing shorts that no american man his age would wear. The lady is older with dark roots and bleach blonde hair and a long thin nose. They both walk stiffly.  There’s not enough time for further observation, so I just say, “no, those aren’t Americans.”  My voice might have been tinged with regret at not having sighted other  members of my “specie,” so to speak.

This is apparently unthinkable to my driver.  “Then where are they from?, ”  he asks.

“i dunno. Maybe they’re British?” i offer.  i do not tell him that i am absolutely the worst person to play this game with, as my international exposure is limited to Canada, and a week or two in Britiain and France.   

“Oh, is that a different caste from American?,” he asks sincerely, trying to understand how we can be so different when he apparently feels we look so much alike.  

“Yes. Very different caste, ” I reply.   

1 comment:

Broadway said...

Interesting post. Im indian. Most caucasians wonder how indians can distinguish between caste by just the looks but you seem to have figured that part out. Good for you.

BTW Indians stare at foreigners for a number of reasons - Physical size, Attire, Watching their activity etc etc. But the significant reason for all the stares is the "skin colour". I've found myself starting at caucasians too. As a kid i saw them on television but the colour appeared buttery yellow. Until i saw one in real life and freaked out. They looked like albinos to me. I stared and wondered whether their skin lacked pigmentation.